Good morning, y’all. I don’t know when the term “news” was redefined to mean “just bad news” but there seems to be plenty to go around. Today, we hear about the devastating floods in Ellicott City, Maryland where the whole town was destroyed and two were left dead. Next, we hear about sixteen people dying in a hot air balloon accident. It was a clear beautiful day, and yet, sixteen people lost their lives. I guess no one knows the day or the hour.
Speaking of knowing the day and the hour brings us back around to our retelling of the history of The Full Gospel Original Church of God. Sunday’s service was once again filled to the rafters with the curious and the convinced. The below freezing temperature did not dampen the followers burning with the flame the Holy Spirit. As Elder Cheatum looked across the congregation seated before him from his new vantage spot, standing next to the door, he noticed the Right Reverend Dale E. Bread sitting front and center with his family. Elder Cheatum was not sure how he had missed them entering the church, but there they were, in front of God and everybody. “I hope there’s not going to be any trouble”, he thought as Ted E. Bayer and his Love Fellowship broke the silence with the gathering hymn.
As Reverend Handbasket appeared on the stage there was a collective gasp from the crowd. Reverend Helena was wearing robes that were patch-worked in the colors of the African flag. Bright red, bright green and solid black were mixed together harmoniously to give the appearance of a very tailored flag. The sermon was on race relations, which was a timely topic considering the numbers of new brown and black faces in the congregation. The older members of the congregation were not only having to contend with “flatlanders”, they were also having to contend with people of color, something they rarely had to do. Segregation of the races was just how things were done here in “Whitopia”.
Elder Cheatum remembered the phrase he had heard his whole life that was specifically reserved for blacks, “Don’t let the sun set on you in Union county”. Black people, who did the menial jobs that the white people did not want to do, had to live in the surrounding counties. In this part of Georgia, blacks were not welcome to live in the same county as the people that they served. Even today, the 2014 census revealed that less than 1% of the population in Union county was black, just slightly higher than the Native American population. Statewide the black population comprised almost one third of the general population in Georgia.
“The roots of bigotry run deep”, thought Elder Cheatum, “even when they go contrary to convenience.”
The Elder watched the crowd’s faces for reactions as Reverend Handbasket referenced the Bible to support her sermon. She quoted Leviticus 19:33-34, “When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.”
“Good catch all quote”, thought Elder Cheatum, “Red or yellow, black or white, they are all precious in His sight.”
As he scanned the faces of the congregation, the message seemed to be well received, and Reverend Helena was doing a bang up job of delivering it. So good in fact, that she ran long on the sermon. The telecast had to cut away before the Testament of Faith and the Altar call. As it turned out, the overrun was providential. It allowed the Reverend Handbasket to ask the congregation to stay behind for some “important church business”. As Elder Cheatum watched; a few folks scampered out of the doors before Reverend Handbasket announced what the “important church business” was.
“Just as well”, he thought, “They’re more interested in their fantasy football teams than the mission of the church, it’s just as well we don’t count their vote.”
As Reverend Handbasket explained the two options to the assembled crowd, the Elders and “Elders in training” moved up and down the aisles handing out 3×5 cards with the choices clearly printed on them:
Continue the growth of our mission, even if it means moving to a new sanctuary.
Discontinue the telecasts and abandon efforts to spread the word.
After dispensing the ballots, the Elders walked back to the front of the church and used the prayer baskets to collect the ballots. As the Elders returned the baskets to the altar, Reverend Handbasket led the congregation in the singing of “Love Lifted Me”. At the end of the hymn she pronounced the benediction and the congregation exited the church.
The Elders rushed to the altar and collected the baskets. Sitting around the table in the church office, the Elders stacked the ballots into two piles. The count was not even close; as the Elders had imagined it would not be. If seniority had been used to qualify voters, there is little doubt that the vote would have gone the other way. By allowing the newcomers to vote, the Elders had tilted the scales in the direction of the outcome they desired.
“Well boys…, and girls”, said Elder Diggum as he looked between Mulva and Reverend Helena, “it looks like the people have spoken.”
“I would say overwhelmingly so”, responded Elder Wiley, “it looks like the people want to spread our message as far as we can.” “Mulva, how soon can you get the Ladies Auxillary mobilized?”
Mulva appeared to be in deep thought, but responded quickly,”It depends on the task”.
“Well, I’m sure that there’s years of dust and dinge that need to be removed at the new church”, said Elder Wiley, “plus we’re going to have to lean on the ‘husbands auxillary’ to repair and to paint.”
“If any of the husbands have a specific trade like HVAC, electrician, or plumber, we want to put them at the top of our list”, said Elder Cheatum, “Nothing will spoil an ecclesiastical experience like a backed up toilet.”
“By the same token, bringing folks into a new worship hall without heat will not engender folks to dig deep into their pockets”, responded Elder Wiley, “We need to get the right trades folks in to cross the t’s and dot the i’s before we invite the world to come visit.”
“Well, I think we’re all agreed, the sooner started the sooner finished”, said Elder Cheatum, “so let’s all meet at the Crystal Palace tomorrow at 9AM, ok?”
Everyone at the table nodded their assent.
“Ok, since everyone is so agreeable, I’d like to float one more trial balloon”, said Elder Cheatum, “I’d like for all of us to consider letting Reverend Dale take our proposed new worship times on Sunday.”
“Are you crazy?”, was the immediate response from Elder Wiley.
“Perhaps”, responded Elder Cheatum, “But I watched how folks that knew him responded to him today, and they all seemed to be happy to see him.”
“I think we should consider him for the 7AM service and the 3PM service”, Elder Cheatum continued, “that way Reverend Helena is fresh for prime time, and we can offer our congregation the opportunity to worship with a familiar face, and without feeling crowded.”
“I’m ok with Reverend Dale”, Reverend Helena spoke for the first time, “If I had fallen, I would want to be given a second chance.”
“And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins”, recited Elder Diggum as he smiled at the group, “Mark 11:25”.
Elder Cheatum raised one eyebrow in the direction of Elder Diggum, and then turned his attention back to the group.
“I motion that we approach Reverend Dale with the idea of the two new time-slots, and then see how it goes”, Elder Cheatum said as he looked each member in the eye.
The motion carried. There being no further business the group left the church.